Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Importance of Writing Credits

I hear from a lot of fiction writers concerned about writing credits. You’ve been told over time that in order to get published you need to build writing credits or are concerned that when it comes to your query you don’t have much to add in terms of your bio. Don’t worry about it. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I think all agents realize this. We don’t require writing credits and certainly don’t expect them. There are plenty of authors out there—heck, there are plenty on my own list—who never published anything until that first book.

That being said, if you are getting writing credits somewhere—reputable literary magazines, epublishers, or even nonfiction venues like newspapers—you should definitely mention that. The life and travels of a writer don’t neatly fit in a box. In other words, if you see yourself as a romance writer now, it doesn’t mean that you were writing romance three years ago, and your credits might reflect that. Writing credits of any kind show that others have acknowledged your writing ability and also show that you are serious about pursuing writing as a career and not just checking out publishing to see what might happen (and we get a lot of people who do that).

If you have fairly recent credits (a contest from third grade doesn’t count), definitely mention them no matter what they are. Remember, querying agents is like sending out a resume. Your goal is to make yourself stand out from the pack and anything you have that can help that is worth mentioning.

Jessica

32 comments:

~Aimee States said...

Aw, dang. I did win that poetry contest when I was twelve...

Actually, I think writing credits are pretty important. Not as proof of tenacity and skill (although, that's some good stuff to have), but also, because it helps a writer learn about submitting--and to take rejections in stride. That's valuable experience when you're ready to take on the big dogs.

*goosefrabba?*

Mark Terry said...

I have found that writing credits gets faster and more interested responses from agents and editors. They're still apparently comfortable turning me down, but they do answer the knock on the door a bit quicker.

Anonymous said...

What are 'reputable epublishers?'

List, anyone?

beth said...

I wonder...would you consider a blog geared specifically about writing and publishing in your genre to be a writing credit? Especially if that's all you have....

Mira said...

Um, does posting on blogs count as writing credit? Because I'd have a whole CV on that.

Well, assuming it doesn't, I appreciate this. It's good to know both that any writing credit is helpful, even in a different genre, and also that writing credit isn't an absolute requirement.

Marsha Sigman said...

Thats interesting to know. I have had a few articles purchased and published by epublishers. I did add that to my queries but then I felt stupid and took it off. The subject matter did not pertain to what I am doing now so I thought it didn't really count.

Jm Diaz said...

Thanks for the great post. I understand the need for (or preference) for writing credits, but it is sometimes difficult to obtain when you have a full time job and are trying to write novel. With that said, I wonder if blogging would count as writing credits.

SM Blooding said...

I find that it's hard to see when e-publishing writing credits count and when it doesn't. Well, no. I think I've found that most agents state that it doesn't count and that it's right up there with being self-published.

I was e-published a few years back. I'm still trying to figure out when to use that and when not to, but this...helps. I think. I shouldn't be this confused.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think solid clips in national magazines and newspapers count for more than e-pubs and blogs? I think it shows merit when a top pub pays hundreds if not thousands for a published piece.
I hope so!

ryan field said...

From the POV of this post, I don't know if any of my past writing credits helped me get an agent.

But I do know the writing I did helped me, personally, as a writer.

Liz said...

Like others on here I am interested to hear your thoughts about blogging - my 5 pence query: I run an established book review blog, reviewing both children and adult's novels, across all genres, and I freelance at other review websites. I have a lot of industry contacts and a lot of "followers" on the blog. Because of this, I recently got invited to speak to a group of 12 year olds, at a local school about reading, books, blogging, meeting authors and wanting to be one myself, etc.

Would that have any relevance to my query for my middle grade novel I've completed?

Sheila Deeth said...

My son won a poetry contest when he was nine. Can I count that? I'm not sure the writing credits I've got this year will help me much - seriously, I'm not sure anything will help me get published. But they do help me feel more confident, on occasion, when I'm not remembering that my son got published before me (and he's the one that hates writing).

Novice Writer Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post. It's nice to hear these sorts of things. I always struggle with the autobiographical portion of any submission letter so it's nice to get posts on what you don't have to sweat about when writing it.

Lydia Sharp said...

Excellent post. I especially like the understanding you have that writers tend to transform a bit over time (and hopefully, for the better). I always thought I'd be a die-hard SF/F writer until I went to the grave, but now I'm working on chick lit, too. *shrugs* It happens.

Damaris said...

There goes that Honorary Mention from sixth grade! :)

Aimless Writer said...

Would an agent use writing credits to choose between two writers?
I guess I'm asking when would the credits make a difference?

Kate Douglas said...

I've been pleasantly surprised at how many authors started out as newspaper reporters, myself among them. I think it's a sign that writing is in our blood. However, I don't know of too many who began their writing careers doing radio copy for a country western radio station like I did, but man, could I ever sell that pig feed! And end-of-year clearance on used appliances? I had 'em in the palm of my hand...

Dawn said...

This blog post answered every question I've been mulling over about this subject. Especially the question of "do I list a writing credit that very different from what I'm querying at the moment?"
Thanks so much for this.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Keep in mind that this post was specifically for fiction writers. Credits are much different when it comes to nonfiction (non-narrative that is).

Mentioning a blog probably won't hurt unless it's an angry, anti-publishing blog. Although I don't think it helps that much primarily because anyone can write a blog. It doesn't show me that a professional has acknowledged your work (picked you from hundreds of others to publish).

When it comes to choosing one fiction writer over another the only thing that's going to matter are my feelings about the book and whether or not I think I can sell it. What your credits are will only play into that if, for example, you are coming to me with a future contract in hand.

--jhf

Kate Douglas said...

Regarding epublishing--if not for my epublishing career, I doubt I'd be with NY now, so I always suggest epubs as a good way to test your skills as a writer.

To determine if an epub is reputable, find out how long they've been around, check out their contract to make sure they're not a subsidy or vanity press (that you don't have to pay any money toward publication of your work and that they pay royalties)and go to the various online sources where you can look up whether or not a company has complaints against them: Writer Beware or Preditors and Editors, for instance. There are a lot of good, reputable companies out there that have been around for years, but do your research, because there are also a lot of bad apples in the bunch.

Mark Terry said...

The caveat to the blog not being important, I would think, is just how popular your blog is. There are some bloggers who are writers (alas, I'm not one of them) who have been blogging since before their novels came out and get 10,000 or more hits a DAY (I'm thinking John Scalzi, who's clearly an exception). But the point is, for most blogs, so what. But occasionally you'll get a blogger who's clearly got an audience already.

Wendy Qualls said...

So the million-dollar question - if we don't have any real writing credits, what DO we put in that paragraph in the query? Or do we just skip the paragraph entirely? Do we put "Graduated from X college, member of RWA, grew up in the part of the country where my novel is set" or just say "I haven't published anything yet"?

Kim said...

Haha, Wendy, you just nailed the last paragraph of my query letter ("graduated from X college", etc.). It's a little scary >:)

Would love to know the answer to that question, though. Would agents prefer to see nothing (if there is, in fact, nothing *yet*), or should we reveal a little something about ourselves to make the letter a little personal? I'm talking a sentence, maybe two.

The blank space on that page is a little unnerving!

Steph Damore said...

Wendy - have you been reading my query letter? j/k

Seriously, I second guess my writing credits/closing paragraph all the time. Mainly because my professional writing experience is through my former employer where I wrote for VW, Audi, Dow & UBS - way far off from my cozy mysteries - but still really cool, high-profile stuff. This info isn't included in my current query. I wonder if I should add it again?

~Sia McKye~ said...

-"Remember, querying agents is like sending out a resume. Your goal is to make yourself stand out from the pack and anything you have that can help that is worth mentioning."

Great analogy, Jessica! Most people understand resumes. This is a writing resume makes sense. :-)

Gilbert J. Avila said...

I wonder if that weekly serial I wrote for my high school newspaper counts?

Rachel said...

It's very true that writing credits don't fit neatly into one box. Writing encompasses so many genres that it's a fair point to wonder if you should include published news articles in a query letter for a novel. Although the genres are unrelated, basic writing style can be gleaned from any type of writing. It can never hurt to include links to any writing you've done--assuming, of course, the writing is good.

Anonymous said...

I'm on the other end of this dilemma, having published three YA novels with a major house long, long (long) ago. They got good reviews but didn't sell all that much (of course, this is pre Bookscan).
Now I've finished a new one. As far as agents and publishers and editors are concerned, should it be my fourth YA, or my first under another name?

Mim said...

I've been a freelance writer for four years, and I make an okay amount of money for the time I put in it. But my work is all over the web, not in magazines or newspapers. Is that really respected enough to mention when I submit a YA novel?

Anonymous said...

Should I mention that I'm a high school English teacher?

Michelle said...

I emailed you a few weeks ago about this topic and I am so thrilled that you addressed it on your blog! Thank you for the advice--it is extremely helpful!

Rhyanna said...

Hi Jessica thanks for posting this. I have been listing writing credits from an online writing contest because several of my short stories are on their website. that is the prize--published on their website. I also figured that writing opinions to the editor of local newspaper doesn't count. Oh by the way congrats on making querytracker.net blog which mentions this article and you...
blessings.

rhyanna